Car Restoration Projects
The DeLorean lives on around the world
NSW Southern Highlanders Nicky and Richard are old-car nuts, with a penchant for Holdens, but they broadened their collection a few years ago when they bought a DeLorean. They didn’t get it to restore and treasure in the traditional sense, but as a promo vehicle for their business.
There’s a tenuous link between a DeLorean and a Holden, and that’s the fact that John DeLorean spent much of his working life designing iconic cars for General Motors. But Nicky and Richard weren’t influenced by that connection: their reason for chasing down a DeLorean was its association with the Back to the Future movie trilogy that began in 1985.
By 1985, the DeLorean car plant in Ireland was just a memory and John DeLorean was living in obscurity. But the unique look of the DeLorean car appealed to director/co-writer Robert Zemeckis. He used a DeLorean as the base for the movie’s time machine.
For those who haven’t seen one of the movies, or who have been robbed of the memory by Alzheimer’s, the plot in the first episode runs like this:
Marty McFly, a typical American teenager of the 1980s, is accidentally sent back to 1955 in a plutonium-powered time machine, invented by a slightly mad scientist. During his often hysterical trip back in time, Marty must make certain his teenage parents-to-be meet and fall in love, so he can be in his own future.
‘The way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style,’ said Doc Brown, when asked by Marty McFly why he built a time machine out of a DeLorean. Powered by 1.21 gigawatts of nuclear power, the car could travel to the past and future after hitting a top speed of 88mph.
Nicky and Richard run a fantastic toy shop called the Sell Block, in the NSW Southern Highlands. Many of their quality toys, figurines and assembly kits are movie-related, so they reckoned that a replica Back to the Future time machine would enhance the business.
They set about looking a for a suitable DeLorean to import and discovered some Sydney-based people already bringing a few into Australia. One of the machines was wrapped in yellow plastic, which put off many collectors, but didn’t worry Nicky and Richard, because they intended to convert it into a replica of Doc Brown’s machine.
However, when they pulled off the plastic they discovered that the brushed stainless steel body panels were in pretty good condition and it seemed a terrible shame to cut into them. Instead, with some help from fellow DeLoreanites and US specialist, Chris Nicholson, they brought the bodywork back to ex-factory condition.
The car serves well as an eye-catcher when it’s parked outside their Bowral shop, but relies on Back to the Future memorabilia for association with the movie, rather than being time machine replica.
When we checked out their DeLorean it was kitted out with Marty McFly’s cap and shoes, and a copy of the all-important Sports Almanac. Best of all, it sported a replica of Doc Brown’s flux capacitor that allowed the car to travel to many different locations in 1955, 2015 and the wild west years.
The Sell Block DeLorean is an early-production model that must have passed though the US rectification system in the early-1980s, because it exhibited none of the defects that were common in these vehicles, including electric and panel fit issues. In the early days, DeLoreans suffered from ‘Paddy Problems’ that were attributed to the Irish workforce.
Considering it was 40 years young, the DeLorean looked stylish, with an obvious Lotus overtone. Panel fit and finish wasn’t as we’ve come to expect in modern cars, but it wasn’t bad.
Being an early build it featured small fuel filler cap in the bonnet/boot lid that was later deleted in favour of a plain bonnet sheet.
The rear engine bay was Euro-typical of the period, with no under-lid frills. The engine was intended for pedestrian French and Swedish sedans, so it didn’t sport crackle-finish cam boxes and fancy trim.
We’d love to have seen the promised Legend engine, with its twin turbo-intercoolers in that engine bay, but the deal was signed too late for this Ferrari-beater to make it into production.
The interior looked dated, of course, but the doors shut with a reassuring clunk and everything worked as it should. The engine rumbled away behind our ears and, when provoked, sounded faster than it actually was: this lack of urge being a criticism of the DeLorean that boasted only 130hp.
However, the racing buckets promised roadholding that was definitely there, as we discovered on some Southern Highlands roads. Colin Chapman’s influence on the chassis design was palpable.
One essential item, Nicky and Richard reckon, is the aircon system. Because the steeply raked windscreen and side glasses let in a shed-load of sunlight. It was pleasant during a Southern Highlands winter’s day, but in summer it’s a rolling hell, without the air con running.
That’s probably why you see open doors on DeLorean’s when they’re parading in procession at low speeds, as we did in 2002, in Chicago, where more than a dozen DeLoreans headed the traditional St Patricks’ Day Parade. (Chaicagoans take their Irish heritage seriously, dying the river bright green for the day.)
Nicky and Richard don’t seem too disappointed with their shelved plans to build a Back to the Future replica and are happy to enjoy the driving experience and the promotional value of the bog-standard machine.
They’re both pleased to know that the original DeLorean movie star has been faithfully restored in the US of A.
DeLorean joins the National Historic Vehicle Register
The USA’s National Historic Vehicle Register was created in 2013 and is a part of the Hagerty Drivers Foundation – Hagerty being the premier old-car insurance company in the USA. The Register is dedicated to ‘recording and protecting America’s automotive past for future generations’. The DeLorean time-machine-converted movie car is the 29th member of this registry.
Jonathan Klinger, executive director of the Hagerty Drivers Foundation, stated that the DeLorean’s significance in pop culture made the decision an easy one.
“The DeLorean Time Machine is among the world’s most recognisable and beloved automobiles,” Klinger said. “It transcends borders and generations, and it appeals to an audience far beyond the car community.”
The model used in the film trilogy was placed on display at Universal Studios in Hollywood after filming ended and we remember seeing it there in the early-1990s. However, over the years, the car became damaged by exposure to the elements and by tourists who took souvenirs from it.
Trilogy co-writer Bob Gale led a restoration project for the car that was completed in 2013 and is documented in a film titled: OUTATIME: Saving the DeLorean Time Machine.
The ‘hero car’ is now on permanent display at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. There are many replicas of the car, but the real one is near its original home in Hollywood.